Editor’s Note: Happy Saturday! This morning we have Waldorf educator Rebecca Watkin giving us a look inside a Waldorf Kindergarten class. Here she is:
When I think of my own Kindergarten year my memory is a bit foggy. To me it is virtually the same as Grade One, but without the desks. There were stations, there were a lot of posters on the walls with writing I couldn’t read, there was a circular carpet, lots of books, art supplies in bright colors labeled and in plastic bins and lots of children. Oh, there was a teacher in a dress as well. I don’t remember my teacher ever talking to me or touching me but I remember what she looked like very well.
I know now that I probably don’t remember much because my development was such that I couldn’t. I was living in the moment, in my limbs and in my senses. I remember only one actual experience from Kindergarten. One day I got to hammer nails into a stump. The nails were already nailed in an inch or so and I got to whack them with a real hammer. I wonder if this was my only real sense experience that year. Was everything just brushing the surface? Was nothing really involving my senses or engaging my will? Huh.
Now that I have something to compare my own experience to, I was drawn to explore the development of the young child and find out why I want to go back to Kindergarten in a Waldorf classroom. In my quest I turned to my colleagues and friends. For the most part I got to listen to stories of Kindergarten from way back.
Four and five- year-olds are funny people. But, we all agree that at that stage children are sense oriented, willful people. They are taking in their environment full throttle. This is why children at this age imitate adult behavior. They take everything in and become it. They are mom, dad, cook, driver, cleaner, dog, painter and gardener because their will is awakened and has a natural feeling to imitate. What a talented bunch.
In a Waldorf Kindergarten the ability to imitate is the prime focus of the teaching. The teacher must be worthy of imitation and exemplify good moral behavior. The teacher is always involved in purposeful activity around the room. She might sweep, wipe window ledges, or straighten books etc. The children see the example of care and attention and are, thus, led to imitate this behavior.
The child is not led in any activity during free play, but rather allowed to explore there own fantasy and creative play. The morning begins with free indoor play. An artistic activity is usually set up at tables during this time, so that children can participate freely throughout the morning. This is followed by a circle activity, a story and then a healthy snack made by the teacher. Next the children go outside for more creative free play.
The materials provided in a Waldorf Kindergarten room are meant to be open ended. The dolls might not have faces for example, so that the imagination can create the expression. The blocks are natural wood color, so that they can become fence posts or castles, chairs or beds. The dress-up clothes are all silks and crowns that become covers, clothes for a knight or queen, or the ocean. There are baskets of pine cones, rocks and shells. These can become food, jewels or baby animals. There are no limits to the imagination unless we provide them.
I spoke a little bit with Kendra Quince who is a founding member of the Saltwater School in Courtenay and taking her Waldorf Kindergarten training this year. I thought she might be able to help describe what makes a Waldorf Kindergarten such a special place.
R: So Kendra, what were the requirements to get into the training program?
K: I was required to have a degree as far as schooling goes, but I also had to have an interview where they determined that I was an open and generally artistic person.
R: How long is the training and what are the main components?
K: The training is two part-time years. It is divided between studying the foundations of Waldorf philosophy and curriculum, studying child development, six weeks of practicum, four observations in four different Kindergartens, maintaining a relationship with a mentor, and ongoing evaluations by the mentor.
R: What would you say is the central theme to a Waldorf Kindergarten that would differ from any other Kindergarten?
K: I think it is the protection of the wonder of childhood. The central theme in practice is giving space for imagination and fantasy. Rhythm is also a central theme in a Waldorf Kindergarten, as it is in the whole school. The rhythm can be thought of as the routine and the melody is created by the activities that are always changing.
R: As part of your training process you have been to many Waldorf classrooms. What are some of the similarities of the aesthetics?
K: The rooms are the color of peach blossom. They are meant to mimic the womb. Often right angles are softened by silks hung from ceilings and walls. Lights are dim and only used when sunlight is insufficient. Rooms are decorated by Waldorf toys (mentioned in article above), a nature table, a book shelf, one or two framed watercolor paintings of gnomes, fairies or children and a small wooden table surrounded by tiny chairs where the children eat.
R: What is a typical class size?
K: It really does vary. I have been in a class with four children and one with 16. Teachers agree that the larger end of this is easier for the children socially.
R: Thank you for speaking with me today Kendra. Best wishes with the rest of your training.
Well, its official, I do want to return to Kindergarten – that of the peach blossom variety. Grade One is very close in some ways. But I will save that for next month’s article.